‘Was that it?’ At the end of the presentation it became clear that yes, TalkTalk really had assembled a collection of journalists and analysts at its HQ to announce that very soon the UK’s smallest pay-TV brand would offer the same mobile app and multi-room services its rivals already do.
The obvious pride on show from various executives taking part in the presentation seemed completely divorced from the sheer routine ordinariness of what they’d just unveiled.
In what turned out to be a very brief Q&A afterwards, I took issue with a comparison chart which sought to portray TalkTalk as a provider of all the major channels and shows a customer might want at better value than its rivals
While it correctly highlighted that TalkTalk offers the full suite of Sky Sports channels – something BT doesn’t – the chart omitted to mention that none of TalkTalk’s pay-channels come in HD, something all its rivals do offer.
And I remarked on the inclusion of BT Sport as part of TalkTalk’s offer when in fact customers have to buy it from BT direct, and the fact that customers doing so don’t get the Boxnation channel as part of the bundle.
While, as one of the execs pointed out, TalkTalk does offer Boxnation to customers, it does so as a separate add-on which makes the BT Sport pack less value on TalkTalk than on some other platforms – perhaps undermining TalkTalk’s central positioning of being all about the value.
In response I was told that the company saw its “USP as aggregation” which allowed customers to receive “a bit of everything”
And I was told that TalkTalk TV was “very consistently a value for money provider,” and was cited “an extremely successful Sky Sports” promotion in which the service offered “market leading” prices.
I got some hard stares – though everyone was friendly in a brief chat afterwards – when I asked whether these very low prices weren’t really about the fact that TalkTalk’s wholesale deal for the channels came with a guaranteed minimum monthly payout from TalkTalk to Sky that wasn’t covered by the number of subscribers taking those channels.
Weren’t these deals as much about minimising the loss on that wholesale deal as they were about consumer value?
You probably won’t be surprised to hear the execs declined to comment on the terms of their deal with Sky, but I was told the promotions “delivered a lot of overall metrics for us” including improved broadband uptake.
Which is fair enough.
BT runs its sports channels primarily to defend its broadband business and Sky invests heavily in Sky Atlantic in order to provide an exclusive layer of content which it hopes will help retain customers and stop defections to rivals.
And in answer to the part of my question asking what was it that TalkTalk offered that customers couldn’t get anywhere else, I was told: “On the softer side, we’re in quite a unique place” of not having exclusive content but that this meant the company wasn’t trying to endlessly “ram” its own pay-content down customers’ throats.
Having decided I’d pushed my luck enough, I opted out of further questions and sat back to hear those of my assembled colleagues, though to my surprise only one other person had a question.
Might TalkTalk follow the example of Virgin Media, which has slowly woken up to the importance of exclusive content, and start buying up some shows for its VOD service?
“Probably not,” came the response which suggested having “expensive own produced” content wouldn’t really fit with TalkTalk’s self-description as a “content marketplace”.
The questioner pushed back and pointed out that Virgin wasn’t doing this, merely buying in already produced shows. Would TalkTalk not even look at doing that?
“To be honest where we’ve had success is packaging and selling products and services people know and love very well, at low prices.”
TalkTalk TV is based on a solid platform, though some claim the YouView experience is let down by the supply of under-powered set top boxes, but it’s never been a particularly exciting or innovative offer and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.
Those not fussed about getting the latest features ahead of other platforms, and those who don’t care about getting the best picture quality or listening to sports in Dolby Atmos, may well find that TalkTalk has enough of what they want at wallet-friendly prices.
But at the moment there’s a distinct lack of ambition surrounding the platform which means everyone else is being better catered for elsewhere.